Research by Embrapa Amapá showed that there are no changes in the smell, texture and taste of the açaí drink (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) whose fruits undergo thermal shock at a temperature of 80 ° C to 90 ° C, an essential step for inactivating Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes Chagas disease, which can be present in contaminated barbers. Conducted with consumers of traditional açaí in the North Region, the scientific study demystifies the fear that heat would alter the properties of the food. This prejudice is one of the main causes of the rejection of the final product by the population and some beaters, whose fruits were subjected to heat treatment.
Hot dip for ten seconds
The thermal shock in the fruits, or bleaching as it is popularly known, eliminates several microorganisms that cause diseases acquired by contaminated açaí, among them, the protozoan Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes Chagas disease.
“The açaí mixer should immerse the sanitized fruits in water heated to 80 ° C to 90 ° C for ten seconds. Then, the fruits must be cooled in another tank with clean water at room temperature, for two minutes. With this procedure and the other stages of good practice, several disease-causing agents are eliminated ”, highlights Embrapa researcher Valeria Saldanha Bezerra.
She explains that the research sought to assess rumors that this type of sanitization would cause changes in the original characteristics of açaí, a prejudice that would make the consumer reject the product. Therefore, the sensory analysis research involved the consumers of traditional açaí themselves to test the hypothesis. Sensory analysis involves perceptions through the sense organs, in the case of this research, smell, taste and vision were emphasized.
For two days, people who consume açaí at least once a week became volunteers. They tasted the drink and then filled out an evaluation form with socioeconomic questions, general impression of the product and the purchase intention.
“Traditional drink consumers accepted the processed product after thermal shock of the fruits, describing it with positive characteristics and expressing the effective intention to purchase the product, countering the claim of some people that this type of sanitization leads to noticeable changes to the consumer traditional açaí, causing a negative impact on the sale of the product ”, concluded the researcher.
95.5% liked açaí a lot
The study involved 272 consumers of açaí, 71% of them between 15 and 50 years old, the age group considered ideal for sensory evaluation. The acceptance test revealed that 95.5% of these consumers rated açaí with a score of 8 or higher than 8. In the analysis, it means that they liked the drink extremely much.
Regarding the description of the açaí drink, the expressions most selected by the evaluating consumers were: açaí flavor, thick type, color and smell typical of the drink. These are words that positively identify the good characteristics of açaí. “After evaluating consumers' purchase intention data about açaí beaten, we observed that 94.9% would buy that drink. If to this value we add the notes 4 that we are likely to buy, we would reach the universe of 100% of consumers who would buy that açaí of processed fruits after thermal shock ”, highlights the scientist.
Thus, the researchers concluded that the thermal shock stage in açaí fruits, at a temperature of 80 to 90 degrees Celsius, did not lead to noticeable changes by the traditional açaí drink consumer, mainly in relation to the taste, smell and coloration that are the main attributes observed.
The starting question of the sensory analysis with the evaluating consumers was “How much did you like this sample of açaí? For this, a structured hedonic scale of nine points was used, in decreasing form from “I liked it extremely” to “I disliked it extremely”. To describe the sample, the Embrapa team used the CATA (Check-All-That-Apply) method where several words were placed on the form and the consumer chose the one that most represented the sample he was trying on. For the variation of the purchase intention, a structured scale of five points, in decreasing form, was used, which included from “I would certainly buy this product” to “I certainly would not buy this product”.
As a result of the doctorate of researcher Valeria Bezerra, Embrapa updated the recommendation of thermal shock in açaí fruits at a temperature of 80 ° C to 90 ° C. The thermal shock procedure is simple and practical. “You should immerse the fruits, previously selected and sanitized, in water heated to 80 to 90 degrees Celsius, which is very hot for açaí fruits, so they should be immersed for just ten seconds. If you leave more time, the pulp of the fruit can “cook”, as it is very thin. Immediately after removing the fruits from the hot water, immerse them in cold water to cool the fruit, so as not to run the risk of losses in relation to the purple pigment that is anthocyanin, a natural antioxidant dye contained in the pulp of the açaí ”, explains researcher.
A key detail is that over-thermal shock protection is one of the steps, not an isolated warranty procedure. Good açaí manufacturing practices start from harvest, through transportation, storage and marketing. “When the açaí fruits are delivered in a mixer, even before the thermal shock, they must pass through the waste picker table, where dirt and insects are removed, including the entire barber or parts of it, which may be contaminated with the causative protozoan Chagas disease, and contaminate beaten açaí and consumers ”, explains Bezerra.
She also points out that the açaí fruit contains only 15% to 20% of pulp, it is usually on this surface of the fruit that are the microorganisms that can cause diseases, as well as barber's feces, for example, that can remain in the fruits even after the picking and washing stage. “Then the heat treatment will eliminate something that may have remained even after the stages of picking and cleaning the fruit. It is the only way to inactivate the protozoan that may still be present in the fruits, ”he stresses.
Açaí and Chagas disease
Açaí, for a good part of the population of the North region, means daily meal, with the same importance of beans, for example. Dona Maria Deulinda Ribeiro Nobre, 67, residing in Macapá, has lived this habit since childhood. But it was from 2008, when she received the diagnosis of Chagas disease, that she became more aware. “I was hospitalized for six months, and it was proven that I and 16 other people had this disease due to contaminated açaí. I am very cautious, more aware. I don't take any mixer. I think this bleaching process (thermal shock) is very important. The taste of açaí does not change anything, it stays the same. And it is hygienic and free from Chagas disease. I advise that all people, if they can take açaí with a mixer that does this process (thermal shock) is very good ”.
She recalls that since she was a child she has been used to drinking açaí daily at the table. “I was raised with açaí, fried fish, game, so I got used to açaí every day. Today it is like that, açaí right after lunch and dinner, accompanied by flour. When I was a child, we were beaten and soaked it in hot water, kneaded it in our hands, we didn't have that care today. It has improved a lot and we have to be attentive ”, observes Dona Deulinda.
Diego Felipe Oliveira Assis, 32, also from Macapá, points out that his three-year-old daughter has already started eating açaí on a daily basis. “We started to consume even more when our daughter, since the introduction of food, started taking açaí. So I worried about buying a mixer that had the best treatment possible so that the risks are minimal to our health ”. For Assis, the açaí from the mixer that he trusts is even more tasty. “Here at home we realize that it is a tastier and less perishable açaí, as popularly says: it doesn't go sour the other day. We eat açaí every day, together with proteins and carbohydrates, ”he says.
The research contributes to the Sustainable Development Goal – SDG 3 of the United Nations (UN), which advocates the right to a healthy life and the promotion of well-being for all and all, at all ages.
The work was an activity of the Bem Diverso project: Integrating Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity into the production practices of NTFP and SAF in Forest Landscape of Multiple Use and High Conservation Value – Marajó II Territory, with funding from the United Nations Program for Development (UNDP) and Global Environment Facility (GEF).
The details of this work are in a Research and Development Bulletin, available in full through download. The authors of the publication are researcher Valeria Saldanha Bezerra, an agronomist at Embrapa Amapá; Dominique de Souza Cabral, a student in the Pharmacy course at the Federal University of Amapá (Unifap); the forestry engineer and local technician of the Bem Diverso Project, Danielle Miranda de Souza Rodrigues; and Unifap Pharmacy student, Allana Hielly Negreiros Lima. In addition to this team, they also participated in the sensory analysis test, a student in the Environmental Sciences course at Unifap and a fellow Lauane Monteiro Costa; and the Master's student in Tropical Biodiversity at Unifap Rayane da Mota Rios.
What the açaí beaters say
Testimony of the couple Robert Anderson Pereira de Araújo and Maria Cecília Ramos Araújo:
“Before opening our business, we were looking for technical and practical knowledge. Through an indication we went to Embrapa, and learned the correct way to work with açaí. From the beginning, we were aware that lives are at stake in this market. That Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) are indispensable.
There are beaters resistant to the technique of thermal shock, creating even their own technique, bleaching with a temperature below 80 ºC, claiming that it would spoil the fruit. But that was demystified when we had another opportunity to prove that whitening brings health benefits to those who consume bleached açaí, and that there is no or almost imperceptible change in flavor.
We were invited as partners for the tasting fair, we processed the açaí with the technique and together with other partners we can hear closely the report of those who can taste and feel the genuine taste of our açaí ”.
Sustainable açaí extraction
The açaí fruits served in the sensory analysis research tasting were harvested by agroextractivists in the Ilha do Meio community, in the municipality of Afuá (PA). The location is part of the Amazon Estuary (meeting point between the river and the sea between the states of Amapá and Pará), a region where there is evidence of being the center of origin of the açaizeiro species Euterpe oleracea (Mart.), Abundant in areas of riverside floodplains and flooded forests along rivers.
Through the Bem Diverso Project, these açaí producers participate in good practice actions for sustainable product extraction and market access. The project's technician, Danielle Rodrigues, pointed out that açaí, in addition to being indispensable in the diet of the local population, is an important source of income due to the great demand for the product in urban centers. However, in recent years, consumption of contaminated açaí has been associated with cases of Chagas disease. For this reason, the application of Good Practices for harvesting, transporting and manufacturing açaí has been one of the strategies for controlling the protozoan and, consequently, this disease.
The project paid for the participation of agroextractivists from various locations in the riverside municipality of Afuá, in a round of Açaí Fruits Purchase and Sale Business, held at the Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service (Sebrae), in Macapá, in which they negotiated the fruits directly with the owners of açaí mixers in Macapá and Santana; and the following month, from the supply of raw material to the five açaí mixers that were part of Embrapa's action at the Campo Products Fair. “To make this activity possible, we made the fruits and transportation possible to the city of Macapá. The project also offers training courses on the management of açaí in the riverside areas of the municipality of Afuá to help producers increase the productivity of their areas of açaí, ”summarized Danielle Rodrigues.